Joe Denly thought his tour of New Zealand was over when he rolled his ankle before the T20 series. But now the Kent right-hander has locked down his place at No 3 for Thursday’s first Test along with two more batsmen in England’s revamped line-up.
Denly, 33, emerged from the back end of the summer’s Ashes series on an upward curve only for a bad fall over the boundary rope in Christchurch to see Jonny Bairstow held back on tour as cover should three weeks of icing and rehab not be enough for a return.
But now Denly, slated for No 3 in the two-Test series, has proved his fitness in the first-class match against New Zealand A, making 68 over three and a half hours at the crease as Ollie Pope (88) and Jos Buttler (88 not out) also helped England reach 355 for eight by the end of day two.
“It’s been a long few weeks sitting on the sidelines,” said Denly. “But what it does is make you hungry to get out there and put on the whites and perform. It was pretty nasty when I did it. I was lucky not to do some real serious damage and it was always touch and go to get ready for this game.”
Denly experienced no discomfort turning for runs and, unless a reaction follows, Bairstow will head home after day one of the first Test, not least with Zak Crawley, the reserve top-order batsman, having made a century on Tuesday and runs for Buttler and Pope in this second match. They helped get England out of a hole on the second day too, having followed the home side’s 302 for six declared by reaching 114 for five at lunch – albeit with nightwatchman Jack Leach among the wickets to fall for a 78-ball 22.
Dom Sibley was struck on the grille by Kyle Jamieson before edging to gully on 15, while Joe Root glared at the inside edge of his bat after being adjudged lbw for two. When Ben Stokes gloved to slip off Jimmy Neesham, shouldering arms, a chance to bat long on a flat pitch looked like it might be squandered.
But as the morning clouds made way for hot sunshine, Denly and Pope combined for a stand of 90. The younger man was, however, handed a life on seven when nibbling behind off a no-ball from Scott Kuggeleijn. The right-armer had been drafted into the home XI when Hamish Rutherford, struck by Jofra Archer the day before, failed a morning concussion test. It wasn’t exactly a like-for-like sub but with just one 12th man on site, England agreed to face the additional seamer for the extra challenge.
Denly slightly gifted his wicket, pulling Blair Tickner to mid-wicket, but Buttler then held firm. Launching spinner Ajaz Patel for six to get off the mark was some introduction. But England’s new wicketkeeper played a sensible hand in an 89-ball half-century before creating some more typical havoc after tea.
Pope was left punching his bat in disgust after holing out off Patel. He had looked prime for a century but still, his eye-catching first-class average has now risen to 59.52 and a second chance to transfer this to Test level awaits.